Honors Seminar: American Frontiers and Borderlands
Assignment 1: The Frontier and Borderland as American Idioms (W September 13)
- An idiom is a phrase or turn of speech that has taken on a special cultural meaning beyond the meanings of just the words that make up the phrase. The terms "frontier" and "borderlands" have become American idiom, implying many meanings beyond those associated with the lexicographical meaning of the terms. Thinking about Turner's definition of the "frontier," Slotkin's definition of "border," and about the ways the terms are used in American popular culture, write a brief informal essay (2-3 pp.) which answers the following questions. Draw concrete examples from the readings and from the culture around you to support your assertions.
- How does Turner define the Frontier, and what does he believe is its significance in American history?
How does Slotkin define the "Frontier Myth," and what does he believe is its significance in American history?
How does Slotkin define "the borderlands" in his essay, and what are the differences between his use of the concept of borders and Turner's concept of frontiers?
What are some examples of "frontiers" and "borderlands" that exist in American culture today? What does the continued use of these two idioms represent about their significance in American history?
Assignment 2: Encounters and Explorations (M October 2)
- When Lewis and Clark set out on their great journey, President Thomas Jefferson's instructions to them were to find a navigable water route to the Pacific and to observe and record literally everything that they encountered on the way. Using specific examples drawn from the section of Lewis and Clark's journals and Jefferson's instructions distributed in class, answer the following question, supporting your argument. What were Lewis and Clark looking for, and what did they find?
Assignment 3: Discovering "Nature" (T October 10)
- Thoreau wrote in Walden, "In Wildness is the preservation of the world." After your own experience in "wildness," what do you think Thoreau meant by this? To what extent was his idea of Wildness a construct, a way of looking at a place like Walden Pond as a "wild" place in spite of its being surrounded by and in close contact with a town, industry, and people? Given that a construct serves a purpose or it would never be constructed, what purpose did Thoreau's idea of wildness serve?
Assignment 4: American Characters (W October 25)
- After having read selections from Lydia Maria Child's Hobomok, James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, and Zitkala Sa's "Impressions of an Indian Childhood," answer the following question, providing specific support for your argument.
According to Child, Cooper, and Zitkala Sa, what is the relation between the American Indian and the formation of the American character? Is the relationship a positive one? What makes Americans different from Europeans? According to each author, is the continued presence of Indians in America necessary, or could their "role" in creating American character be played by other people(s) or institutions?
Assignment 5: Austin and Modernism (M November 13)
- Using the definition of Modernism we have developed from class discussions of Austin and her work, think about the differences between Mary Austin's The Land of Little Rain and Henry David Thoreau's Walden. Using these contrasts, examine the ways in which Austin's perspective is Modernist. In a 3-5 pp. essay, discuss and document with evidence drawn from the text three Modernist elements in Austin's book. Do not simply summarize Austin's argument; identify and examine the ways in which she is a Modernist.
Assignment 6: Syncretism (M November 27)
- In reading Mary Austin's Land of Little Rain and Peter Guralnick's Searching for Robert Johnson, we have used the idea of "syncretism" to examine the ways that cultural change takes place. As people who had once been "Mexicans" become "Americans," and as a mixture of musical forms from Africa and Europe combine to become "The Blues," we can examine how "new" cultures and "new" cultural forms develop from earlier, older ones. Using examples from both texts, discuss how this process takes place.
Assignment 7: On the Border of Revolution (M December 4)
- We have read selections from John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath (1930) and watched John Ford's film The Grapes of Wrath, as well as John Steinbeck's articles published as The Harvest Gypsies. What are the differences between the three works, in terms of the way that they present the story of Dust Bowl migrants (and the blame for their situations)? What are the reasons for these differences?
- Please answer the following in a three to five page essay. Be sure to provide specific support for your argument--the name of a specific museum artifact, and direct quotes from the text--in order to prove your point.
- After visiting the National Museum of the American Indian and reading and discussing John Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks and Zitkala Sa's "Impressions of an Indian Childhood," you should have an inkling of the significant contestation over "authenticity"--"real" Indianness versus "phony" or "polluted" Indianness--that rages in the field of Native American Studies. With those experiences in mind, provide four examples--one of which should come from "Impressions of an Indian Childhood"--of ways in which Native American cultures have adapted to contact with Europeans. Then provide four examples--one of which should come from "Impressions of an Indian Childhood"--of ways in which Native American cultures have resisted changes caused by contact with Europeans. That contact may consist of either the moment of meeting between Indians and Europeans or changes in the patterns of interactions with Europeans and Euro-Americans after contact. Describe and explain the meaning of each example. Considering the evidence of these adaptations, and the debate over "authenticity" which we have discussed in class, explain why it is so important for people--especially scholars--to understand and document the ways in which Native American peoples have adapted to and resisted against European and Euro-American culture.
Formal Essay Two: Borders and Frontiers in Cold War America (M 18 December)
- Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles tells the imaginative story of the American colonization of Mars during the Cold War period, and serves as an analogy for the settlement of California by Anglo-Americans in the years around the 1849 Gold Rush. Using Turner's Frontier thesis and specific examples from Bradbury's text, examine the ways in which The Martian Chronicles tells the same "frontier" story that Turner does. Using the concepts of syncretism and simultaneity at the core of the idea of the Borderlands, examine the ways in which The Martian Chronicles tells the story of the borderlands, largely defined. In the final analysis, does Bradbury seem to agree more with the Turnerian or the Borderlands model?
Prepared by Professor Catherine Lavender for Honors 502 (The American Experience--Social Sciences), The Honors College of The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York, Fall Semester 2000. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Last modified: Monday 11 December 2000.